“The trouble is, you think you have time.”
Just a little meme floating in a sea of a thousand other memes across my Facebook feed, but it caught my eye and I’ve thought about it every day since then. I realize it’s not exactly a novel concept, but I like the way it’s worded.
A couple of weekends ago, we were at a friend’s house in Stanton. Anthony and I were talking about growing older, one of our favorite topics. (For the record, I do not consider us old at all.) He had buried his beloved dog earlier that day – Lobo was either 18 or 19, Anthony wasn’t completely sure – and I think he was just feeling a little philosophical at that moment, which was certainly understandable.
Everything was pretty good, we agreed. Life is probably never all you want, but still, not bad at all.
After a little while we hit a lull in the conversation. I could tell he had something on his mind. “You know,” he said quietly, “we’re at that age now where people are going to start droppin’ around us.” We laughed. Of course we laughed. We had talked about this before, about realizing that middle age is not hard because you start realizing you’re getting old, it’s hard because you start losing things around you that you’ve known your entire life, and as the losses mount, they take a hellacious toll on your psyche. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, mentors. Rock stars, movie stars, professional wrestlers. All the special markers in your life that you thought would always be with you and then one by one, they aren’t. They just aren’t. Little assaults on your immortality: Ms. Howell your sixth-grade English teacher, then Robin Williams, then Prince. Then your dog. Before long it’s all your aunts and uncles and somewhere in there, your parents, and then everybody that helped raise you is gone. And that’s when the generational torch is truly passed and it’s just you and your friends sitting around the card table, growing old together, looking to pass the torch yourselves.
At some point in there I told Anthony about the quote I had read on Facebook. “The trouble is, you think you have time.”
I asked if he’d seen it, since it had been shared by a mutual friend. He didn’t think he had. I looked it up, I said. It was attributed to Fake Buddha, whatever that means. It’s still a good quote, he said. Mmmm-hmmm.
I don’t remember who else was there when we were talking. Maybe my wife, Leslie. I’m not sure I have related that conversation to anybody before now but it hasn’t been far from my mind since Sunday morning, when I got the ol’ one-two taint punch that Anthony was gone.
Man, it was hard to write that just now.
It might take both hands for me to count all the friends I have today that I have known as long as Anthony Gabbard, but I don’t need one finger to count the number of friends that I have loved more.
I’ll just be honest, I’m not 100% sure on the cause of death because when the coroner called Ramona (Anthony’s wife) with the autopsy results, my mind was somewhere else. We were at the funeral home and after she hung up the phone, she announced, “That was the coroner. Anthony had an enlarged heart…” but then for me, everything just kind of faded into noise. A couple of people have asked me what happened since then and that’s all I’ve been able to tell them. He had an enlarged heart.
That’s been happening to me a lot lately, losing track of my surroundings. Is that common in stressful times like this? Probably so. Everything starts off clear but then quickly just kind of fades into noise. I have been in a roomful of people for most of the last few days, with lots of conversations going on at once, but at some point I always lose track of what we’re talking about and fall back into my own thoughts. There have been a lot of times where I’ve found myself staring off into space, thinking about some memory or another and feeling tears in my eyes, then I’ll snap back into the moment and realize that somebody is sitting there, watching me. I’m sure it’s awkward. I’m really sorry.
It’s only when I’m one on one with my wife, or Brinton, or Cory, that I can think straight and have a coherent conversation. At least I think it’s coherent — they might tell you otherwise.
I’ve also noticed that right now, I can’t recall a lot of little stuff. I’m sure it’s only temporary but it’s still strange to me. For example: just a bit ago, I was writing about Anthony’s dog but it took me a good four or five minutes to remember his name was Lobo. I’ve known that dog as long as Anthony has, could see him as clear as anything, but I couldn’t remember his name to save my life. Or, yesterday I needed to forward an e-mail to somebody at work and couldn’t remember their name, either.
Another thing: I keep asking everybody what day it is. Not so much because I can’t remember but because I forget that I just asked them the same thing an hour ago. I’ll say, “Is today Monday?” and then it will occur to me, I just asked that question. It’s still Monday. Besides, I am well aware of what day it is, anyway. I don’t even know why I asked in the first place. Maybe I just like to hear words come out of my mouth because the act of talking keeps my mind busy.
So yeah, I am pretty much in a fog still. I’m sorry if that’s awkward but it’s kind of the way it is right now. Today is a little better than yesterday, though.
For a long time, it’s been me, Brinton, and Anthony. Wives, kids, dogs, whatever. But me, Brinton, and Anthony.
OK, I don’t really know what else I can say about that right now.
Wait, how about this: we’ve had an off and on discussion for a few years now. If there are a finite amount of genes in the human body, does that mean that on an infinite timeline, eventually the same combination will hit again and there will be another someone exactly like you? What do you think? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Anthony Gabbard knew everything. I’m sure he wouldn’t disagree.
For years now, if I needed help with something no matter how random or off the wall, I would call him and he would have the answer. “When is the best time to plant grass?” “How much will it cost to finish my basement?” “What kind of poker table should I get?” “What’s the best way to put up a backsplash?” “What’s wrong with this lawnmower?” “What kind of computer do I need?” “Where is the best place to buy steaks?” “Do you know how to replace a lower radiator hose?” Whatever.
As you might surmise from the questions above, I am not the handiest of handymen. For all I know, he made most of his answers up. But, I can tell you, I did take his advice a lot and most of the time it worked out for me. So there’s that.
Google is fine but it means more when it comes from someone you trust. Remember that.
Very private moment here. Probably too much information but I’m going to share it anyway, because what the hell?
After we left the hospital Sunday we all went back to Anthony and Ramona’s house. We were there maybe ten hours, but eventually left around midnight. At least I think it was around midnight.
Our house is in Lexington, about forty minutes away. Leslie drove. I expected I would have some major trouble going to sleep but I guess I was just so mentally out of it that I went down pretty quickly right after we got home (had another good cry first, though).
It wasn’t exactly a comfortable sleep, I can say. Not surprisingly, I dreamed about Anthony. Of all the damned things, I dreamed Anthony found out he had cancer. We were standing on his porch talking, then he just walked away. Went out to his truck, climbed behind the wheel, then pulled out a gun and shot himself.
When I woke up, I think it was the single lowest moment I have had in all of this. So far, anyway. Because the first thought I had was, yep, he’s still dead. Goddammit.
Then yesterday, after we went to the funeral home with Ramona and Anthony’s dad and stepmother, Brinton and I went to get something to eat. He told me that the night before, he’d also dreamed about Anthony. I doubt that surprises you, either – like I said, it was always Anthony and Brinton and me.
He said there was a guy standing in his yard, and he looked like Anthony, except Brinton knew it couldn’t possibly be Anthony really, because Anthony was dead. “You’re not Anthony!” he said to the man in his yard. “What are you doing here?” The man wouldn’t answer. Just kept standing there, looking at Brinton. Brinton kept yelling at him, “You’re not Anthony!” until finally, after some long undetermined amount of time, the guy in the yard shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m not Anthony. I’m from the government.” Then he walked away.
In honor of Anthony, I would like to think that the government man in Brinton’s yard was absolutely not a Republican.
And now you know what we dreamed about the night he died.
Speaking of the funeral home. This was the first time I have ever been present for a funeral arrangement. I wasn’t there to make any decisions, just to lend support, but still I had never seen the process until now. I have been very lucky (“lucky”) in that, I suppose.
It’s such a weird deal. What color coffin? Where is the grave site? Do you want silver or gold handles? What color for the lining? Blue? What shade of blue? I know it’s just part of it and I have to say, the funeral directors were incredibly nice and outstanding professionals, and I would recommend them to anybody.
I guess it’s my own defense mechanisms kicking in, but in that moment I kept thinking about that scene at the end of The Big Lebowski where Walter and the Dude go to pick up Donnie’s ashes. Just because we’re bereaved, that doesn’t make us saps! Inappropriate? Yes? Funny? Yes. I know Anthony would appreciate that.
I could write about this all day and all night. I know I will write and talk more in the coming days, about Anthony and our time together, but I wanted to start getting it out of my system. I have been so glad to see the outpouring of love for him and Ramona in the last few days, all the tributes people have written. He touched a lot of lives and brought a lot of people together.
I still can’t believe it. I don’t know that I will ever believe it. It will get easier to handle but right now I just kind of feel like, okay, what the hell do we do now?
I was tracking back through the memories and it seems like the earliest specific memory I have of Gabbard is from sixth grade. I knew him for a few months prior to this, but this is the first real story I have about our friendship. Me, him, Brinton, and Daylan Kinser all got in trouble at school for gambling, for what the old-timers called “flipping quarters.” Now this is ironic as hell because we have been gamblers for a very long time and were in fact gamblers even in sixth grade, but in that moment, when Principal Billy Rose came over and jumped down our throats for flipping quarters, we weren’t gambling at all. We were flipping coins to determine outcomes for a way scaled-down version of Dungeons & Dragons that Anthony and Brinton were making up. We still laugh about that to this day.